Pádraig Mac Piarais (Padraig Pearse) was an Irish teacher, barrister, poet, writer, nationalist, republican political activist and revolutionary; he who was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916. Following his execution along with fifteen others, Pearse came to be seen by many as the embodiment of the rebellion.
Pádraig, his brother Willie, and his sisters Margaret and Mary Brigid were born in Dublin to James Pearse, a stonemason from Birmingham in England and to Margaret Brady, from Dublin, whose fathers family from County Meath were native Irish speakers. Padraig’s maternal grandfather, Patrick was a supporter of the 1848 Young Ireland movement, and later a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
Pearse recalled a visiting ballad singer performing republican songs during his childhood; afterwards he went around looking for armed men ready to fight, but finding none, declared sadly to his grandfather that “the fenians are all dead”. The Irish-speaking influence of Pearse’s grand-aunt Margaret, together with his schooling at the CBS Westland Row, instilled in him an early love for the Irish language and culture.
He recalls that at the age of ten he prayed to God, promising him he would dedicate his life to Irish freedom and became involved in the Gaelic revival. In 1896, at the age of 16, he joined the Conradh na Gaeilge, and in 1903, he became editor of its newspaper An Claidheamh Soluis.
The Irish school system, he believed, raised Ireland’s youth to be good Englishmen or obedient Irishmen, and an alternative was needed. Thus for him and other language revivalists saving the Irish language from extinction was a cultural priority of the utmost importance. To that end he founded St. Enda’s school for boys and was also instrumental in the foundation of St. Ita’s school for girls.
He joined the IRB and was instrumental in the organisation and carrying out of the 1916 Rising; it was Pearse who read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic from outside the General Post Office, the headquarters of the Rising. Pearse was the person most responsible for drafting the Proclamation, and he was chosen as President of the Republic. After six days of fighting, heavy civilian casualties and great destruction of property, Pearse issued the order to surrender.
Pearse and fourteen other leaders, including his brother Willie, were court-martialled and executed by firing squad. Thomas Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh and Pearse himself were the first of the rebels to be executed, on the morning of 3 May 1916. Pearse was 36 years old at the time of his death.